A Job Well Done

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Photo by Jordan Whitfield on Unsplash

I want to banish 2 phrases from my vocabulary:

  • “I don’t have time.”
  • “I didn’t get enough done today.”

Is it funny that, in preaching on the Sabbath the last few weeks, I’ve been preaching to myself?

I started preaching in Exodus in March. Planned a couple weeks on the 10 commandments. Moving right along to other things like golden calves and waterfalls sprouting from rocks.

I spent 4 weeks on the 4th commandment—

“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.”

I came away absolutely convinced that if we don’t get this rhythm of rest right, we get nothing right. We get nothing right in our relationship with God and with others if we miss this concept and practice.

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Sabbath Rest

Most people, most Americans at least, have no idea how to rest. And we’re dying for it.

The unique time in our history we find ourselves in right now could also be an opportunity to re-learn the fourth commandment. Unintentionally and certainly against our wills, we are poised to reflect on what rest really is, why we need it, and how we’re going to return to whatever is reality on the other side of a global pandemic.

What do we want normal to be, and how does sabbath rest figure into it?

Sabbath and rest are one of the most important themes in the Bible. Rest interweaves throughout all of Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation. In exodus at the 10 Commandments, we get the first absolute mention of Sabbath rest as a command.

Exodus 20.8 Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the Lord your God. On that day no one in your household may do any work. This includes you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, your livestock, and any foreigners living among you. For in six days the Lord made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and everything in them; but on the seventh day he rested. That is why the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and set it apart as holy.

But that doesn’t mean it was unheard of before. We know this, because the Israelites in their wilderness wanderings were told to recognize the Sabbath rest by not collecting manna on the seventh day.

Let’s take this command apart a little.

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Remember—zakar—means to call something to mind in such a way that we act on it in the present.

Sabbath-shabbat = Rest. Stopping. To cease activity.

Holy=set apart—given over for a special purpose, consecrated, dedicated, separate

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So putting this all together, the commandment means:

Remember—in such a way that you do something about it right now—the stopping of everything and the separate, dedicated purpose for this day.

Remember

What are we remembering?

For in six days the Lord made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and everything in them; but on the seventh day he rested.

It’s an intentional echo of Genesis 2.3—“Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.”

The first reason for the sabbath rest is all tied up in creation. I say first, because there is another, but we’ll get to that next week. This first reason is set right after the first three commandments—and there’s beautiful, intentional order to that.

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The first three commands have to do with loving God. (Have no other gods but me, make and worship no idols, don’t take my name in vain.) These three commands and the creation—relatedness of the fourth one also neatly coincide with Jesus statement of the most important command – love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind. That’s what the first three are all about. And that’s what the first reason to keep the sabbath rest is about.

The reminder to rest is set there to make us focus on the fact that he keeps the world rolling on a daily basis, and we do not. God created in six days—he did it all. We had zero hands in it. The first reason to keep the Sabbath is to give us a constant reminder, because we do tend to forget, that we are not the ones in charge of the universe. He is the one who created us and gives us breath.

If we don’t stop and keep our regular rhythm of rest, we start to believe the lie that we not only can keep our agenda running smoothly but we must. If we don’t keep working, it will all fall apart. This is a lie, and it’s right there in the heart of our faith.

We tell ourselves that one day it will be done and we will get a rest. If we worked as a little bit harder and a little bit longer, we can take a break. If we create at least a Plan B, and probably a C and a D, we don’t have to keep spinning our wheels quite as much. We all know how that ends. One day never comes.

This thinking leads straight to breaking the first 3 commandments.

  • We have other gods before the one God. Our bank accounts, our jobs, our own daily planners end up getting our real worship in terms of time and priorities.
  • We create idols out of productivity and security—those are the things we really trust in.
  • And we attach his name, taking it in vain, to things like bigger and better and more. We decide that it’s a godly virtue to work harder and make others do the same—and that’s edging quite close breaking all 3 at once.

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Every 7th day we’re reminded to:

  • Renounce dominion over our time and our autonomy
  • Step off throne we think we’re on
  • Recognize God’s dominion over everything
  • Interrupt our time, plan, agenda, and god of productivity
  • Intentionally be inconvenienced.

The Sabbath rest is instituted to teach us a rhythm of meditating and appreciating God’s constant, active creating and sustaining. It is intended for us to sit back and accept our own inability to sustain our world. It keeps us humble. If we allow it to.

And it truly leads to peace and joy.

Learning more about Sabbath rest has changed me. I have come to understand that a rhythm of ending my day, not only my week, with stepping back as God did, looking at my work, and saying “that was a job well done,” changes the day’s schedule from stressful to peaceful. And it doesn’t depend on how much of that agenda gets done. It depends on whether or not it was a day in which I honored God and did good work. The amount of it makes zero difference. The peace and wholeness God offers from this simple rhythm is beautiful.

Shame, Blame, and What Should Have Been

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Photo by Luma Pimentel on Unsplash

Early Days

My parents married when I was already on the way. This was supposed to be information we never figured out, I guess. Both had come out of unsuccessful first marriages. Dad had four kids; mom had two. Both had full custody. You could have called us the Brady Bunch, but that would not have been an appropriate comparison for how we made it work, which, apparently, wasn’t that well.

I thought we did. I was the youngest of seven—what did I know except that our happy world centered on me, the baby? I had no idea until later it wasn’t so happy for the others.

I was the product of the marriage that should have been, I think. The only child of the one that worked. Neither ever spoke of their first marriages. I suspect my parents wanted to forget, to forge ahead into the family that “should have been” had their “mistakes” never happened. But that’s impossible when the evidence of those relationships surrounded us daily in the form of six siblings whom I considered absolute sisters and brothers but time has proved not so much.

That focus on what should or could have been cost us all dearly.

This Sounds Familiar

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Photo by Foto Pettine on Unsplash

This is where we are in the Bible story. Rebekah and Isaac married and had two children who struggled, literally: Jacob and Essau. Their issues were nothing compared to the drama of Jacob’s not-so-blended family hot mess.

if you’re not familiar with the story, read it here.

TL;DR: Jacob wanted to marry Rachel. Through some extreme (fairly deserved) trickery, he got Leah instead. He eventually got both, and after ten sons he finally had a son by Rachel—Joseph. Instead of making everything all better, though, this turn of events made it all worse.

Joseph represented to Jacob all that should have been. He was the son who should have been first. The son from the marriage that should have been the only marriage. Joseph should have had the firstborn fatherly blessing if life had played fair with Jacob (a pot calling the kettle black scenario if ever there was one).

So foolishly, Jacob makes happen what his dreams and regrets believe should have happened. Even though the evidence of his other relationships in the form of ten children surrounded him. Joseph, as the youngest before Ben came along, probably looked at his ten big brothers and thought they hung the moon and stars. He probably considered them his best friends, adored and wanted to be just like them.

I know how this story goes.

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Photo by Ben Rosett on Unsplash

Share the Love

His sibs were not on board with all that. Jacob so absorbed himself in his alternate universe where all the should’ve would’ve could’ve’s in his head had finally come true, that he neglected to consider how it might affect the other ten real people. He played them like extras in the chorus and expected somehow that they would love the star of the show as much as he did.

The fact that they sold Joseph into slavery instead must have come as something of a shock to dad much later when that little tidbit came to light.

It’s a big mistake to live in dreams rather than reality.

It’s the breeding place for resentment, blame, and shame. Three solid curses that come straight out of the Fall.

Shame.

You know those brothers first convinced themselves that had they been better sons, Dad would have loved them more. They didn’t understand the dynamics of his life before them anymore than I did my parents. Assuming they were to blame for his lack of attention makes sense. Most kids do that. The deep shame they must have felt for being “inadequate” sons fueled the smoldering fire of anger at little brother more than anything else, I’m sure.

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We see it as a story of jealousy. I believe shame came first.

Do We Do This?

For a long time, I’ve condemned myself for not being further along in my career. Why aren’t I where I want to be/should be? Why didn’t I work harder? Why didn’t I put in more time/effort/networking etc to be living a different professional life?

I’ve finally looked those lies straight on and realized the terrible attacks they are.

There are a number of reasons for where my career is, and lack of a will to work is not one of them. It’s easy to look at all the should have beens and blame yourself for them. Rarely do we look at all the other factors we had no choice in. Focusing on the fantasy world of where I should be shames me into not being what I could be now.

The brothers focused on what they should have been to be loved, but the lie was in the one who didn’t love, not in the ones waiting for it. They were never deficient. They had no choice. The fantasy world lie shamed them and kept both brothers and father from being the parent and siblings they could have been in the now.

If I had chosen a different career . . .

If I had gotten better grades . . .

If the pandemic hadn’t hit when it did . . .

All of these are birthed in the same lie.

I should be at a place in life that I’m not. Shame on me.

Blame and Resentment.

So the brothers shift their anger at themselves to another target. Little Bro. Little Joe. It’s all his fault. He’s daddy’s favorite. He’s full of himself. The truth they’re not admitting that makes them so resentful though is this—He’s got what they want. All of daddy’s love.

It’s not Joseph’s fault, and they know it. He makes a good scapegoat though, and blame and resentment don’t care about collateral damage. They only want someone to hurt the way they’re hurting.

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Photo by Jaime Spaniol on Unsplash

Yes, We Do This

As a teen and young adult, I was very good at resentment. I disliked everyone who had what I wanted, and I wanted a whole list of things, primarily acceptance. Acceptance looks like so many things that we don’t think we have, from good hair to a good job.

I’m still good at it if I let it happen.

If I had married someone else . . .

If my parents had done a better job . . .

If my boss saw how valuable I am . . .

All of these are birthed in the same lie.

I should be at a place in life that I’m not. Shame on them.

Good Shame Versus bad Shame

This isn’t to say we shouldn’t fight for good, valuable things that should be. Never stop making God’s good kingdom a reality on earth as it is in heaven! It also isn’t to say, “Hey, if you had lousy circumstances just accept it and move on.” God’s people are called to right wrongs and bring justice forward. Especially in this time, do not confuse unhelpful blame and shame with helpful calling out of societal shame and brokenness. Living in a communal world of “what ought to be” is a very good thing.

What I am saying is this. Living in a personal world of should’ve would’ve could’ve’s destroys the life we have right now. It ruins relationships. It paralyzes us in the present. It blinds us to opportunities in our abundant present life.

It does no favors for the future, either.

Lies of a fantasy world we could be in but aren’t help no one in living the life we are in. If only’s only convince us a better option would be easier than working to hold on to the one we have. Let Jacob be a warning echo. Fighting for and appreciating the good in what is brings far more joy than imagining, pretending, or resenting what isn’t.

Word, 2019 Version

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So, the word of the year thing . . . I’ve meant to. Really. And what, it’s only January 17th as I write this. Maybe I’ll go with this popular sentiment I’ve seen floating around.

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Except February is just around the river bend.

I Do Love Words

I never picked a word last year because, well, one never picked me. I find it disingenuous to force the issue if no one word is calling to me. Or maybe I’m just too lazy to search. But this year, I know I want one. I just can’t quite decide which one. And one has not decided on me.

What I’m searching for is more a feeling than a word—and I can’t find the exact word for the feeling. This coming from someone who makes her living finding the right words.

Last year was hard. Exhausting. (Maybe if I had picked a word it would have made it better?)

It was also valuable and beautiful, but these things commingle often, don’t they? We’re already facing some potential significant loss in 2019, so I’m not certain the new year promises better things. I am certain they will also be valuable and beautiful, and I will find that the anchor of Jesus holds still, giving meaning and hope to both joy and loss.

Yet I am at a loss for the word that encompasses it all.

We’re All Just Tired. And Toxic.

Last year was emotionally exhausting, too. When the Oxford English Dictionary chose “toxic” as their word of 2018, they baptized an entire year with an overlay of anger. They’re not wrong.

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There are so many parts of 2018 I am angry about. So many things I simply cannot. I cannot with jailing children, erecting walls, shooting children, fine Nazis, drowning children . . . I cannot. I cannot with the defense of any of these things by people with whom I share a faith.

And yet . . . I also cannot let the toxins invade and make a captive of me. To quote, well, myself when I gave two talks on this topic last year,

“When we begin to attack other humans we are engaging in the tactics of the enemy, and he is not our friend. He will use us. We will end up being what we fight against.” 

We will end up being what we fight against.

I say “no” to that toxin in 2019.

So what words have I considered top define this longing?

Candidates have included:

  • Rest
  • Peace
  • Wonder
  • Joy
  • Adventure
  • Return
  • Restore
  • Simple
  • Me

(Yes, I’ve considered “me.” I have. I find no shame in that, even while I’ve looked for it, assuming that choosing “me” as a focus word for an entire year must contain more than a drop of self-absorption. It doesn’t. It’s time to be good to me for a bit.)

More Than a Feeling

What am I longing for this year?

  • A pulling back, a recalibrating of what I really need and what rabbit trails I don’t need to follow.
  • A reminder of what battles I don’t need to fight and which ones I really, truly do.
  • A restoration of some things that have fallen away.
  • A return to some of the joy-sparking things that I’ve let go. (Let’s channel Marie Kondo here, because why not?)
  • A peace in the midst of evil that isn’t going away but must not wash me out in its tide.
  • A solution to this perennial puzzle of what matters versus what demands my limited bandwidth.

A way to do this unhurried, unscheduled, restful thing perfectly so that I get it exactly right and accomplish all my other goals as well.

. . . . . .

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She appears skeptical. Photo by Thomas Jörn on Unsplash

I’m longing for wonder this year. The kind that gobsmacks you full in the face and and leaves you wide-eyed, smiling with dumb amazement that you never saw it before.

Because the thing about wonder is that, almost all the time, it’s always been there.

(Also, I wouldn’t mind bringing back the word “gobsmacked.” Because how perfectly descriptive of its own action is that word?)

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Photo by Kenny Krosky on Unsplash

Most years, I find a song as well as a word that I believe will, or has, defined my year. Like the words, they find me. This year, I think the song that has found me is Sarah Groves’ Expedition. She sings about going toward that next river bend—but unhurried, refusing to rush there just to say you’ve been. Not going down the river because you have to get to the next port or cross off the next point of interest on the to-do or to-see list.

Going because the bends are the exciting parts, and taking the trip slow allows us to savor those parts with wonder, not anticipate and strategize them until there’s nothing left but the same water you’ve traversed, thousands of times.

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Photo by Jack Anstey on Unsplash

In defiance of her words (you really should listen):

  • I rarely approve of extravagant, and never wasteful.
  • Striving is sometimes my middle name.
  • I don’t have time for deliberate and slow.
  • I always feel I have something to prove.

“Strategy” is among my top five StrengthsFinders, and I am an enneagram 5!!! Do you not understand these important realities, Sarah???

This simply floating stuff does not come naturally. At all.

Yet for this year, I want to venture downriver and see what God has for me there, and I want to embrace it without reservation of whether or not I have the time or the capability. (Enneagram 5’s don’t do anything unless they feel they will be undeniably capable. That’s also exhausting.) I want to go around the turns and marvel at the glory and wonder of it rather than have it already planned out and categorized.

I want to be gobsmacked.

(No, that is not going to be my word. Even though it would look great in calligraphy hanging on the wall. A conversation starter, to be sure.)

What’s your vote? What’s your feeling or longing for this year? Do you have a word? What should mine be? I’d love to talk with you about it. After all, if I want to focus on what matters, one of those things would be you.

 

A Long Obedience, and Other Lessons Learned at Nineteen

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Photo by Christine Mendoza on Unsplash

Running, Galloping, or Anything with Horses

I didn’t want to run with the horses. A neighbor’s horse had once run under a tree branch in our back field, with me on his back, full intending to knock me off. I’d hit the branch. I had not fallen.

Another horse, a supposedly docile being on a trail ride, had been bitten by the beast behind him and reared up, again, with me on his back. The height of it is probably greatly exaggerated in my ten-year-old memory, but I remember the fear.

Our cousins’ ponies tried to bite me. Leaders of Girl Scout rides believed, erroneously, that we would all love to gallop. My best friend inducted me into typical elementary-schoolgirl horse fever, and I created an elaborate ranch on my bedroom wall of paper horses, all different, with names and histories. I loved my horses. I just didn’t love real ones.

My history with the equine family is sketchy.

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Photo by Florin-Alin Beudean on Unsplash

But Eugene Peterson said that Jeremiah said that God said—I had to run with the horses. At that point in my life, I trusted all three, although I remained a little unclear on who Jeremiah was.

Halls of Fame

An author rarely makes it into my mental Hall of Literary Fame. It takes excellence of storytelling, language, argument, depth, and truth to attain that level. Like a preacher who sits in the pews and can’t listen for unintentionally  critiquing (that is who I am), I admit only authors who take hold of my literary imagination. Pushing me theologically earns bonus points.

To paraphrase Jane Austen, who is certainly well-ensconced near the apex of my Hall, “I am no longer surprised at your knowing only six accomplished writers. I rather wonder now at your knowing any.” 

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We lost Eugene Peterson in October. We lost—he gained. He is said to have passed with joy in his heart and greeting on his lips for the One he was going to meet but already knew well.

I met Peterson (through his work) at a crucial time in my development, literarily and theologically. A new freshman at Washington University, I was also a new Christian, stumbling and uncertain exactly what I had signed up for and if it had been the great idea I believed at the time.

As a new believer in a highly unbelieving university, it seemed the thing to join InterVarsity, and there I learned of an entire publishing house devoted to making me a smarter Christian. You can assume by the alma mater that I enjoyed being smarter. This has not changed.

A Long Obedience

Peterson stayed with me while others faded. He taught me early in my faith about a long obedience in the same direction and how to run with horses. He taught me what most nineteen-year-olds need to learn yet rarely can—how to allow for failure, to expect slowness rather than instant effectiveness. He taught me that discipleship was a hard road that required perseverance, not five-point plans.

Of course, I didn’t know I needed to know all that.

You can see how old the book is by the photo. I no longer go by that name. Haven’t for decades. I no longer mark my belongings with unicorn stamps either, although given the magic of books, it’s not amiss.

There are arrows and asterisks and a few underlines in the text of A Long Obedience. Not many. I was still at an age where I believed books were not to be written in, sacred pages that should remain virgin white because someone in a library had told me that probably.

I didn’t know that a book is made more sacred by its highlighting, underlining, exclamation points, and creases. I bet Peterson could have taught me that, too.

The chapter that contains most all the underlining is called “Joy: Our Mouth Was Filled with Laughter.” I clearly felt the need for joy at that point. Not surprising, since my college years were flooded with grief at my mother’s passing a few weeks before high school graduation, my dad’s descent into alcoholism, and a close friend’s suicide. Peterson met me when I needed joy, and I didn’t know how to acquire it on my own.

“One of the delightful discoveries along the way of Christian discipleship is is how much enjoyment there is, how much laughter you hear, how much sheer fun you find. We come to God because none of us has it within ourselves, except momentarily, to be joyous. We try to get it through entertainment. Society is a bored, gluttonous king, employing a court jester to divert it after an overindulgent meal.

But there is something we can do. We can decide to live in response to the abundance of God, and not under the dictatorship of our own poor needs. We can decide to live in the environment of a living God and not our own dying selves. We can decide to center ourselves in the God who generously gives and not in our own egos which greedily grab. Joy is the verified, repeated experience of those involved in what God is doing.”

Did Peterson pave the way in my soul to be one of those who would not rest without excavating what God was doing? Did he play a role in my decision not to pursue law school but ministry instead?

I know, from my note-taking, that he offered me a way to find the joy that had evaporated from my heart. Choosing joy is a decision I would have to make over and over, given my propensity to be more negative than the average bear. Somewhere in that long obedience, the joy stuck, and the negativity is what evaporated, though it’s always a beast that requires patrolling of the borders.

Peterson found me when I needed a wise pastor, and that he was. I hope he helped make me a wise pastor in return. Thank you, good brother, for being who you were and for speaking words that will not die with you.

Comparison Creep

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T. S. Eliot said April is the cruelest month, but I vote for January. Where I live, January is blizzard month. Christmas, with all its cheerful songs and twinkling lights cutting the cold darkness, is over and done. January finds me peeling Christmas lights from the frozen ground, lights that stopped working a couple of weeks ago anyway, and tossing them away like the bright hopes they represented.

We’re staring down the barrel of a new year, with new demands–or old ones depressingly unfinished. Maybe we accomplished what we wanted last year, and now we’re feeling underwhelmed with the results. Or we didn’t, and we feel guilty because perhaps we never will.

Do you ever feel the sneaky pull of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) that happens this time of year? Do you wrestle with the comparison creep that keeps you from fully finding joy in January? Join me at The Glorious Table to read more of this post and find out how sharing joy keeps FOMO at bay.

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